Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan

Overview

After 45 years, Okanogan County began to revise its Comprehensive Plan. The Plan is an important blueprint for zoning and development ordinances to follow. Unfortunately, the County Commissioners largely ignored public input and passed a plan that, in the view of MVCC, violates state law. Specifically, the Plan fails to:

  • protect groundwater quality and quantity
  • provide a land use element that would describe densities compatible with available water supply
  • designate agricultural and forest lands of significance
  • meet the requirements of the State Environmental Policy Act which requires an assessment of alternatives and impacts

News & Links

Update on MVCC’s Challenge to the County Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance

4-12-17

We are pleased to report that the Okanogan County Board of County Commissioners has recently committed to opening a new public process to consider revising the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Zone Code. The presence of two new Commissioners, Andy Hover and Chris Branch, has made a real difference in the Board’s willingness to listen to the public on important County matters like land use planning and zoning. We look forward to participating fully in the new process and look forward to open public discussion and meaningful dialogue with the Commissioners.

At the same time, MVCC’s case challenging the current Plan and Zoning Ordinance is continuing to go forward. Oral argument before Superior Court Judge Chris Culp is scheduled for May 1 at 8:30 a.m.

We went to court because the current Plan and zoning are seriously deficient in many respects. First and foremost, the Plan does not comply with state law’s requirement that a Comprehensive Plan provide for maintaining adequate water quantity and quality. Nor do the Plan and zoning adequately designate Critical Areas such as Forest Resource Lands and wildlife habitat, or adequately consider the availability of public services or response to increased wildfires.

We are optimistic that there will be significant improvements in the Plan and zoning resulting from the new planning process. However, we have not been willing to dismiss the court case, despite the BOCC’s undertaking a new process. Our attorneys have advised us that doing so could limit our ability to challenge provisions in any new plan that we believe do not comply with the law.

It is possible that Judge Culp could suspend (rather than dismiss) the case proceedings until the new planning process is complete. If this occurs, we hope that our lawsuit will become unnecessary because the deficiencies in the current plan will have been corrected.

Judge Culp Issues Ruling on Comprehensive Plan Appeal. 

Update 3-17-16: Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp has issued a ruling on MVCC’s and Futurewise’s challenge of the Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan for its failure to comply with state law. MVCC believes that the Comprehensive Plan does not protect public resources, such as water quantity and quality and fish and wildlife habitat, and allows densities of development that are unsustainable given the water that is available.

Judge Culp’s interim decision denies the requests of both sides for a ruling based solely on the record, and indicates that he will be interested in the final Zoning Ordinance presently before the Planning Commission to determine if it is as protective as the County claims.  The ruling also states that there are matters of fact (as yet unspecified) still in dispute, and that there will be a trial to clarify those facts.

This ruling highlights the importance of ensuring that the County gets Zoning right – and we have an opportunity to do that right now.
The public is strongly encouraged to weigh in with the Planning Commission at their hearing on March 28, and in writing.

Zoning Comments may be submitted by email to Lauren Davidson: ldavidson@co.okanogan.wa.us. We recommend also sending a copy to Planning Director Perry Huston: phuston@co.okanogan.wa.us, and of course include us so that we can track the comments: mvcc@mvcitizens.org

MVCC’s Zoning comments are available here. For a simple summary of our main concerns and recommendations, read our Cover Letter.

MVCC has made no decision about appealing Judge Culp’s ruling.  We will keep you posted on future developments.

Comprehensive Plan Appeal Update

Update 2-1-16: MVCC’s attorney received a message on January 29 from Judge Culp that his written decision regarding our appeal of the Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan will not be completed by the end of January, as expected. Instead, the Judge hopes to have the written opinion completed by the end of February.

Update 1-19-16: MVCC, Futurewise and Okanogan County have submitted their proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law to Judge Culp. You can view the documents below. Judge Culp is expected to rule by the end of January.

Okanogan County’s Letter to Judge Culp

Okanogan County’s Proposed Findings

Okanogan County’s Proposed Decision of the Court

MVCC’s Proposed Order for Re Motion for Summary Judgement or Alternative Review by Writ of Review

Update 1-8-16: We learned on January 8 that the County is not interested in a stay of the Court’s decision. Therefore, both parties to the lawsuit will submit their final arguments by January 15. We are disappointed but not surprised that Okanogan County has rejected a stay in the legal proceedings, and in so doing rejected the opportunity for a dialogue that might get us out of the litigation cycle.
We will keep members posted as the situation continues to unfold. We welcome your thoughts and questions.

A hearing on the lawsuit filed by MVCC and Futurewise against Okanogan County’s Comprehensive Plan was held on December 17  before Okanogan County Superior Curt Judge Chris Culp. The hearing is not a trial, but an opportunity for both sides to present oral arguments in support of their positions.  Judge Culp was already familiar with our written arguments.  He asked questions of both sides and ruminated about the strengths and weaknesses of the respective positions.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Culp gave the parties two choices. One choice is for our side and the County to agree to a one year postponement of the judge’s decision to allow the County to finish the zoning code and its environmental analysis, while MVCC and Futurewise monitor the progress and possibly work with the County to achieve a zoning code and Comp Plan that both sides can support.  At the end of that year, either side could ask for a decision from the Judge.  MVCC and Futurewise could appeal any adverse decision at that time.

The second option is to ask Judge Culp for a decision by the end of January 2016. Any party could then appeal an adverse decision at that time.  We have until Jan. 15 to tell the judge how we want to proceed, during which time we can talk to the County about possible terms of a postponement of the decision.

Washington State Department of Ecology supports MVCC in Friend of the Court (Amicus) Brief

 

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General, acting on behalf of the Department of Ecology, filed a brief supporting two key elements of the suit filed by MVCC and Futurewise against Okanogan County’s Comprehensive Plan.  The brief, known as an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, could be an important development as the case moves forward in county superior court.   Ecology’s brief concurs with MVCC/Futurewise that the comprehensive plan violates the Planning Enabling Act because it fails to adequately protect water resources and water quality. In addition, Ecology concurs with MVCC’s position that the county violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by  not preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS).
Among other things, the Comprehensive Plan adds a new zoning classification called “rural high density” which allows one acre lot developments in significant portions of the County.  Ecology states:
    “There are legitimate concerns that adequate water is not available to support development at this level of density in rural Okanogan County, and that rural development at this density could cause adverse impacts on water quality from, among other things, increased storm water runoff and septic discharge.  The plan allows many more lots than can be supported by the County’s water supply, without including measures  in the Plan that will ensure that water availability and quality will be adequately protected.”
Maggie Coon, Chair of the MVCC board, commented on the amicus brief.  “MVCC is delighted to have the Ecology brief supporting two of the key contentions in our lawsuit.  We hope the Court will give great weight the views of the state agency responsible for water quantity and water quality.”
A hearing before Judge Culp is set for Monday, November 23 at 9:00 am at the Okanogan County Courthouse. MVCC encourages members to attend and show support.  Details for carpooling will be announced later.
Review the Amicus Brief, here.

MVCC and Futurewise File Opening Brief on appeal of Comprehensive Plan SEPA

Topics for comments on the Comprehensive Plan and Interim Zoning ordinance Originally posted in June, 2014 and still relevant today.

image MVCC Comprehensive Plan and EIS comments, June 20, 2013. MVCC comments on the Comprehensive Plan and EIS. This document only includes our 20-page comments. The next link has both our comments and references.

image MVCC Comprehensive Plan and EIS comments, June 20, 2013. MVCC comments on the Comprehensive Plan and EIS. This document includes our 20-page comments as well as 600 pages of references in a single document (8MB).

image Comments on Comprehensive Plan Determination of Non-significance. MVCC comments made on June 16, 2014.

image Comments on the Comprehensive Plan and Interim Zoning Code. MVCC comments from June 16, 2014.

image Okanogan County Draft Comprehensive Plan and EIS, May 16, 2013, prepared for comments of June 24, 2013.

image Map of Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan, prepared by the Planning Department, May 14, 2013, for comments of June 24, 2013.

image Details of Comprehensive Plan issues

Comprehensive Plan companion documents

image Proposed 2009 Zoning Map for Methow Valley, prepared by Pacific Biodiversity Institute.

image Comprehensive Plan Map, for Okanogan County, dated October 14, 2010. This is a large download! (10 MB). Right-click to save the document rather than crashing your browser by linking directly. The link goes to the Planning Department. The Methow Review District is labeled separately, and the Lower Methow is marked as Rural High Density.

image A review and comparison of the 2009 County Comprehensive Plan with older plans, including the Vision Statements of the County Neighborhood Groups.

image Methow Valley Comprehensive Plan 1976 Addendum (pdf file)

image 2000 update of the Methow Valley Planning Area Sub Unit A Community Master Plan (pdf file)

image 1964 Okanogan County Comprehensive Plan (pdf file).

MVCC Appeals Comp Plan

Update 1-12-2015: The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Futurewise have filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Okanogan County, challenging its recent adoption of a Comprehensive Plan, the associated Interim Zoning, and Determination of Non-Significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) for the Plan and Zoning. This lawsuit comes after years of debate and citizen participation, and adoption of all documents by the county Commissioners on December 22, 2014.

MVCC is taking this action now even though the county will hold a belated public hearing on February 2nd. The hearing has been scheduled so the county Commissioners can take oral testimony on the Comprehensive Plan, which they failed to do in error on December 22, and now wish to correct.

From our perspective, the plan is Comprehensive in name only. First, it fails to meet state law by not providing for the protection of water quality and quantity or taking water availability into account when setting the allowed densities. Second, the law requires that the county designate Resource Lands best suited to forestry, agriculture, and mining. Yet the plan designates only public lands as resource lands; it fails to designate any private lands that are currently used for, or best suited for, agriculture. Third, the plan ignores the lessons learned from the record 2014 wildfires and floods. The county made no changes to the plan after the fires and mudslides, failing to reconsider land use and zoning in flood-prone areas, the water needed for future firefighting and fire prevention, or whether some roads are adequate for emergency egress during fires, given the allowed densities.


Read the press release here

Read the appeal here

Comp Plan Appeal Hearing Results

Update 11-16-15: Okanogan County Hearings Examiner Dan Beardslee issued a decision upholding the County’s environmental review of the Comprehensive Plan and Interim Zoning Ordinance, and denying the appeal of the Citizens’ Council and Futurewise. Shortly afterward, the County Commissioners scheduled a public hearing to consider (and likely adopt) the two plans on December 22 at 3:00 pm. Public comments will be accepted until December 19, and should be sent to ljohns@co.okanogan.wa.us

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